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The Original Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew

University of Iowa Yearbook, circa 1920
University of Iowa

Hello, this is Steve Johnson. I live in Garden City, Kansas, and host "Open Range" here at HPPR. I'll be discussing the original Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series as part of

the Radio Readers Book Club Spring read, It’s A Mystery to Me!

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series were the creations of Edward Stratemeyer, head of the Stratemeyer syndicate which dominated the market for children's and juvenile series fiction from the late 1890s to the 1940s. The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, Rover Boys and Cherry Ames were all products of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. The Hardy Boys series was launched in 1927 and Nancy Drew in 1930. When Stratemeyer set the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series in motion, he was well aware of the cultural

changes occurring in America, including the national obsession with crime. Movie newsreels and newspaper headlines were filled with sensational crimes.

During Prohibition, great fortunes were made by bootleggers. Real hoodlums like Chicago's Al Capone and John Dillinger were transformed by the media into dark

superheroes. A golden age of crime and detective fiction flourished led by writers like Dashiell Hammett. Cheap pulp fiction magazines titillated readers with lurid tales of

private eyes, buxom dames and corrupt cops.

Edward Stratemeyer, always a shrewd businessman, took the public's interest in crime and repackaged it for a younger audience, combining the old-fashioned adventure traditon with gritty tales of modern crime. Adolescents are the ideal audience for books in which slightly older teens have one close call after another and rise above challenges time after time. Frank, Joe and Nancy are unencumbered by the trials of real-life


The Hardy Boys' courage and Nancy Drew's confidence are pure inspiration for kids whose lives are full of change and confusion. Kids wanting to escape adult control envy the independence of Frank, Joe and Nancy. Also, what makes the Hardys and Nancy Drew so cool is not only who they are and what they stand for, but also what they are not. They escape the drudgery of chores and the short leashes of curfews and small allowances. They're hardly ever scolded and they're not slaves to organized religion or fads.

They're not joiners. 4-h, the YMCA, church youth groups and even the scouts hold nothing for them. Because these teens live so relentlessly in the present, they have no regrets about their pasts and no worries about their futures.

Teen detective Nancy Drew is the ultimate WASP supergirl. She's the very image of confidence and competence with charm to spare. Everyone loves Nancy. Girls, boys, the cops in River Heights, spinsters, and even the criminals she hunts down eventually come to respect her. She's efficient and always prepared, not in a "scout" way, really, but rather like a young lady sleuth should be. When she's not travelling the globe or dining in some fine local restaurant, Nancy Drew does charity work. For all

her upper class advantages, Nancy never abuses privileges and never accepts pay for her detective work.

The following is a brief, but amusing scene from "Nancy's Mysterious Letter" Carolyn Keene.  (Grosset and Dunlap, publishers. 1932)

"I am Nancy Drew," said the girl quietly.

"I know you are Nancy Drew," mimicked the stranger. "I've seen you go flibberty-gibbet in your auto many a time. When I was a girl, girls stayed home and learned to cook and sew and mind their own business, not to go gallivantin' around in swell autos and waited on hand and foot. I declare I don't know what the world is coming to."

"If you have come here to lecture me, would you mind if I finished my luncheon?" Nancy asked.

For the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club, I'm Steve Johnson.

As the host of Open Range, Steve Johnson brings a lifetime of hearing and performing a wide variety of music to this unique program. Growing up in a home where everything from opera to Bill Evans and the Beatles were heard and embraced, he studied piano in college where he became passionate about free-form radio where you might hear everything from punk rock to classic country or jazz in the course of a few hours. Open Range is your invitation to an hour of radio unleashed- presented with heart and humor. All you need for this adventure is an open mind and open ears.